Music Studio Priorities

Posted by Aaron Davison on Monday, August 10, 2015 Under: August 2015

It’s very rare that I’m not in the studio. I average 6 ½ days, 70 hours per week in my home studio and other studios in the LA area.

These last three weeks were unusual for me to say the least.  I was not only out of the studio, but I travelled through 15 states.

The destination was Columbus, Ohio on July 25th to produce a World-Premiere performance with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra of an act that I co-founded, called U2 Symphony.  It’s a tribute band of hand-picked musicians who not only perform like U2, but look the part as well. It’s a fun project that I do with a friend and colleague of mine who is obsessed with U2.

Though I’m not a fanatic like him, I really enjoy the project because for me, it involves music production, audio engineering, mixing, mastering, video shooting, editing and post-production, tour managing, live sound and live show production, as well as marketing and promotion.

Last year when I sent a recording I produced of the band covering U2’s hit single, “One” to multi-platinum Grammy-award winning U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, he emailed me back within 20 minutes, “Gary, sounds just like the original!!”

This project also keeps my hand in various aspects of the business that I otherwise would not be active in. And, as any of you who have done tribute band projects know, it pays well.

This project particularly is a cut above most tribute projects because it was founded with the concept of performing with Major Symphony Orchestras.

I’m including several photos of the trip and concert. The concert turned out to be a huge success. The show was sold-out  and the public was blown-away, with 100% positive feedback after the concert.

Here’s what a 20 year subscriber of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra posted on facebook, “Been going to Columbus Symphony Orchestra Summer shows for over 20 years. The U2 Symphony show last night was the best Picnic with the Pops show ever!”

When I returned to California from Columbus, I hit the ground running hard -- and still am. I’m currently in the middle of a major move to a new place, as well as the construction of a new home studio.

Something you may be able to relate to is being faced with a possible problem of having to mix with headphones so as not to disturb others under the same roof.

Another attendant challenge is finances – having to stick to a budget and choosing which studio items will receive financial priority. Which items are vital, which items are important and which items are not necessary.

Having to build a new home studio from the ground up gave me the opportunity to review and update for myself the priorities of what we Independent Musicians do – create, record, mix (and for some) master music.

I found myself face-to-face in the office of one of the top audio physicists and inventors in California, when I decided to drive out and personally pick up special sound-proofing drywall adhesive from a company in Vista, California.

And here starts an interesting and unique list of priorities for any recording studio – pro commercial studio or home studio.  Some may disagree with the exact sequence of priorities in my list. And that’s ok. I always encourage each individual to find what is workable for them, and to never accept what they are told without personal research.

With this list, in this order of priorities, I’ve been able to create recordings which have been picked up by top Music Supervisors, Publishers, Commercial Agencies, Radio Stations, etc -- first submissions with no changes. Clients include The Disney Music Group, Hollywood Records, Concord Records, Multi-Platinum Recording Artist Marty Balin, Aaron Davison, and many more.

One thing you will not find on my list of priorities, which, unfortunately many people spend a lot of time, money and worry over – is acoustic treatment of your walls.

I’ll get right to the bottom line. Bass traps, diffusion panels, foam, acoustical panels, etc. can be quite costly. What they do to sound can seem quite impressive and very important when you listen to a salesman selling these products. They can create amazingly persuasive comparative diagrams and math formulas on a print-out showing what these products are doing in your studio.

Before I explain to you why they are not on my list at all, listen to what the audio physicist specialist, one of the top in his field, said to me when I pointed at his display of acoustic treatment products in his company building (he specializes in soundproofing, not acoustical treatment, but he does sell acoustical treatment products).

Before I started commenting, he said, “Well, judging from the fact that you sound like you’ve done a lot of research yourself, you know then that these items help pay our rent, keep the lights on and a lot of people really believe in them. I’m not one of them, though. That industry is not based on a need. It’s based on selling an idea. The idea is not based on reality, unfortunately.”

He couldn’t have said it better.

You will hear all about how wall acoustical treatments “fix comb filtering” and “allow you to hear your mixes better,” and, and, and.

Without wasting any more time on this subject, I’ll paint a really clear picture for you. If I took 10 of the best mixing and mastering engineers in the industry that I know, put them in any studio and allowed them to work for one day, and then overnight if I ripped down all the acoustical treatment from the walls and the room and asked them to work in the same studio the next day. They would all go to work and get equally great recordings created without complaints.

Why? How?

Because all the salesmen in the world either don’t know or won’t allow you to know the truth – it’s the human element that is the number one priority in any room. It’s YOU, it’s not the room. It’s your EARS, it’s not the walls.

It’s so simple, that it sometimes eludes common sense.

All you have to do is to take a few of your favorite commercial recordings, and play them over and over in your studio (for at least 3 to 5 hours) through each speaker system in your set up – UNTIL YOU BECOME FAMILIAR WITH HOW THOSE RECORDINGS SOUND IN YOUR STUDIO.  That’s it. Period.

THEN, you can go to work in whatever room you are in – treatment or no treatment. You will be familiar with how your room handles such things as reverberation, brightness, dullness, comb filtering, phase, absorption, reflectivity, delays, etc. As long as you have some recordings that you are familiar with (or become familiar with) to COMPARE with (A/B), then you can mix and master away to your heart’s content – in ANY room.

This is a vital thing to discuss. I place this in the category of Confidence Killers. Confidence Killers are those things in the audio recording industry that certain individuals have passed off, agreed with, or even taught, as being super important, when they are not. They tie up the attention and worry and money of producers/engineers so effectively, that if something is not done “just so,” the individual then truly believes  “I’ll never get a great mix or mastering session done with my set-up the way it is.”

Sorry, but it’s pure B.S.

My philosophy is to share the truth and to spread Confidence Boosters.

That being said, here is my list of Studio Priorities (I’ll go into more detail on the other items on the list in future blogs):

1. Sound Proofing (different than Sound Treatment). The reason for good Sound Proofing is to free yourself up from the necessity to mix with headphones in order to keep the volume so low that you’ll otherwise disturb someone outside your studio. (See photos included for inexpensive construction designs and installation techniques for effective sound proofing.) In the home studio I am now building, I used 3,700 pounds of sand, sound proofing drywall adhesive called “green glue,” a floating floor, and three layers of drywall.

2. Familiarity with your mixing and mastering environment. This involves listening to a few of your favorite recordings and becoming fully familiar with your room. It includes walking around to different locations in your room while listening, listening outside the door (a great place to check your mixes), listening through all the different speaker systems in your studio (including laptop speakers, etc).

3. The ability to hear when a mix is or is not balanced well. This includes mixing the low end in mono in most genres and spreading the upper frequencies only when desired.  This is key for acceptance by supervisors, publishers, record labels, agencies, etc.

4. Mixing at an average level of 85 decibels as measured by an SPL meter (“c” weighted).  You can test for short periods of time louder, but mixing or mastering louder than 85 decibels alters the flat frequency response of the highest and lowest end of the frequency bandwidth (the mind “hears” the low end and the high end louder than they actually are as you mix or master louder than 85dB.

5. Very carefully testing your mixes and masters on headphones (lower than 85dB at the point of hearing) to check for pops, clicks, edit points, panning, and other problems. A/B commercial recordings with your recording through headphones during mixing and mastering and when you are finished mixing and mastering. 

6. Understanding your basic tools:

a. Compression

b. Limiting

c. Reverb

d. Delay

e. Envelope Shaping

f.  Soft Clipping

g. EQ

h. Multi-Band Compression (a form of EQing)

i. Mixing/Mastering Suite Plug-Ins (such as Izotope Ozone)

j. Vocal Mixing Suite Plug-Ins (such as Nektar)

k. EDM virtual instrument Plug-Ins (such as NI Massive)

l. Basics of Music Theory, Orchestration, Arranging, Songwriting, Composing & Rhythm Styles, Microphones and Speakers.

m. How to create realistic sounding orchestral instruments in your mix.

n. A workable knowledge of and extensive practice with your D.A.W.  

o. The difference between analog tape engineering and digital engineering. They are quite different, though they are unfortunately taught very similarly.

Stay tuned for more details covering the points above in future blogs and a new course coming soon called “Music Production Fundamentals.”

You can contact me any time you have questions at

I’m always here to help.

Talk soon!


Gary Gray, Los Angeles – August 6, 2015     

Overseeing set-up and sound check in Columbus day of the concert

Albert George Schram conducting. Featuring U2 Symphony

Sold-Out World-Premiere Concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra

In : August 2015 

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